I just hung up the phone from my very own bff who was rushing to her mother’s hospital bedside in San Diego. Her world is falling apart. Loaded with her own issues of life and work and now her very ill mother, she needed to complain and unload…and unload and unload. She ended the conversation with, “I just don’t know what I would do without you. You are my bestest friend in the whole world.”
Last week in her article in the New York Times, A Best Friend, You Must Be Kidding, author Hilary Stout explored the question “Should a child really have a best friend?” I read this piece and my jaw dropped to my chest. No, YOU must be kidding!
This article references tweens and teens, their texting, their exclusionary tendencies, and bullying, seeing these as being some of the adverse effects of bff relationships. Apparently educators and school administrators across the land are trying to tone down the best friend culture, as a means to dealing with the epidemic of “mean girl” issues. (I suppose the male equivalent is bullying.) In so doing, among the outcomes they are hoping for is to curb the tide of parental involvement (calls to the school) regarding their children’s social issues, whether the child is the victim or the perpetrator.
Many children have best friends; some children do not. There is, however, no question of the upside to having a bff. For the young child, this friend often provides a bridge from home to the world, enabling a separation that would otherwise be difficult. For single children (without siblings) the bff plays a completely different role; sometimes it’s a faux sibling relationship. For sure and for all, the best friend provides opportunities for lessons and growth in all realms of development, from social and emotional, to the cognitive and physical.
It is when the child, regardless of age, exists in the relationship without parental (and sometimes school) guidance that it can go south. It is the uncensored relationships, bff and otherwise, that can certainly undermine the development of moral and value based social skills.
Whether a child has a bff or not, she still must learn social skills—to get along with different kinds of people, to be respectful and kind, to navigate different social scenes. In short, she must learn acceptable social behaviors, all the different varieties. This is what social intelligence is about. It is a parent’s job, often along with the school’s, to facilitate her child’s acquisition of these social skills. It doesn’t start when the child is 10; it starts when the child is 2 years old. And it walks hand in hand with the development of and lessons in empathy.
It is also a parent’s job to address the social ills that her child may perpetrating…mean girls, gossip, bullying, exclusivity. And it is the school’s job to have policies regarding these same behaviors as it affects school life.
There is an epidemic of bullying and mean girl behaviors in this country; this is common knowledge. In an attempt to find a solution, those who blame the bff relationship may be cutting off their noses despite their faces. The answer is not in sabotaging, even forbidding these relationships. The answer is in addressing the ills—having policies and consequences and teaching lessons.
Children who are raised in homes and in schools in which values, ethics, and moral behaviors are modeled, stressed, taught, and rewarded will learn to have best friends and do the right thing. The two are not mutually exclusive.
As do most of us, I have a bff and I have other friends too, from all walks of my life. My bff is in need right now. I will call in the troops and widen the circle of support Thank goodness I have many on whom to call.